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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing, Duke University, 2019
Mallows Bay-Widewater Historic and Archeological District
Inventory No.:
Date Listed: 4/24/2015
Location: Charles County
Category: District
The nomination form has not yet been scanned
Description: The Mallows Bay-Widewater Historic and Archeological District on the Potomac River in Maryland is the largest collection of World War I U.S. Shipping Board (USSB) Emergency Fleet Corporation steamships in the world and is significant at the national level for its association with Maritime History, the Military, Engineering, Architecture, Transportation, and Historic Archeology. These shipwrecks represent a major portion of the entire U.S. merchant marine built during the period 1917-1922. The shipbreaking and scrap operations carried out in the Mallows Bay area between 1922 and 1945 were among the most ambitious in American history, and the archeological record that was left by these activities is abundant. The district contains 124 historic vessels and 8 historic vessel debris piles located in and around Mallows Bay as well as associated structures used in the shipbreaking process. Out of the 124 documented vessels (dating from the 18th through the 20th century), 101 sites are USSB steamships with varying degrees of structural integrity brought there to be eventually burned and dismantled. The district contains three types of historic property groups: 1) the documented remains of 124 vessels and 8 individual vessel debris sites dating from the 18th through the late 20th centuries; 2) structures inserted into the marine environment such as navigational aids and wharfage, cribbing, and small craft reception facilities; and 3) alterations of the marine environment and landscape for the specific purpose of industrial ship reduction/wrecking (burning basin and bypass canal, gates, berms, jetties, and islands) or harbor creation. Archeological surveys have recorded 6 non-vessel sites related to the shipbreaking process. The largest concentration of historic vessels resides in and around Mallows Bay, the main site used for the grounding and burning/breaking of the World War I U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet (USSB) steamships. Within Mallows Bay, including the area south of Sandy Point, lies the steel hulled passenger/car ferry Accomac, the four-masted schooner Ida S. Dow, 11 barges, 88 USSB steamships (71 identified by name and 17 unidentified), and two concentrated debris fields associated with two unidentified vessels. Additionally, Mallows Bay contains a wharf, one small boat log slipway, as well as pilings used for accidental fleet drift retention. Historical records indicate that there may be as many as 32 undiscovered USSB vessel remains present in Mallows Bay. Significance: The Mallows Bay-Widewater Historic and Archeological District is historically, architecturally, and archeologically significant at the national level. The shipbreaking and scrap operations of the U.S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet steamships (USSB) carried out during the period 1922-1944/45 were among the most ambitious in American history, and the archeological record that was left by these activities is abundant. These operations, and subsequent activities, may be divided into four discrete periods: (1) the Western Marine and Salvage Company (WM&SC) Period (1922-1932); (2) the “Wild-cat” Period (1932-1942); (3) the Bethlehem Steel Company Period (1942-1945); and (4) the Post-War Period (1946-). Each of these periods are typified by activities that provide an important sequence influencing the context, disposition, preservation, and typology of the extant shipwreck and industrial archeological resource base within the study area. The Mallows Bay-Widewater Historic and Archeological District and its contributing USSB steamships provide a superb cross section of maritime production and technological development during a single, pivotal point in American history. Indeed, the production of the USSB Emergency Fleet made the United States of America, for the first time in its history, the greatest shipbuilding nation in the world, with more ship tonnage constructed in a shorter period of time than had ever been produced before. No World War I USSB steamships are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or even held in a museum collection today. While other assemblages of USSB steamships exist, such as at least twenty unfinished hulls abandoned in the Neches and Sabine Rivers in Texas, none have been nominated or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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